Gardner Dozois is one of the most accomplished and prolific editors in our field. He’s produced scores of anthologies, including 31 volumes of The Year’s Best Science Fiction, and won the Hugo Award for Best Professional Editor 15 times in 17 years from 1988 to 2004, as editor of Asimov’s Science Fiction.
In addition to championing countless new writers (as well as older and more neglected writers), he’s shown a lot of love for adventure SF and space opera over the years, which he calls “center-core SF.” In 1998 and 1999 he released two anthologies with the subtitle Adventure SF in the Grand Tradition, both with St. Martin’s/Griffin. They are probably my favorite of his numerous books:
The Good Old Stuff (434 pages, $17.95 in trade paperback, December 1998; cover by Ed Emshwiller)
The Good New Stuff (450 pages, $16.95 in trade paperback, February 1999; cover by Bob Eggleton)
The first volume collects fiction from 1948-1971, and the second from 1977-1998. Together they constitute the finest survey of adventure SF our field has seen.
Both volumes collect a delightful mix of classic SF (including several Nebula and Hugo award winning stories) and criminally overlooked short fiction, from our finest writers of adventure SF. The TOC includes Leigh Brackett, A. E. van Vogt, James H. Schmitz, Murray Leinster, Poul Anderson, H. Beam Piper, Fritz Leiber, Roger Zelazny, James Tiptree, Jr., George R. R. Martin, Michael Swanwick, Walter Jon Williams, Tony Daniel, and many others.
Each story is given a lengthy and thoughtful introduction by Dozois, which neatly sums up the influence each author had on the field, their most important and vital works, and the impact the story had on the genre. The introductions alone, taken together, form a fascinating and highly readable history of this peculiar sub-genre at the core of science fiction.
In January 1999 the Science Fiction Book Club released a single-volume, 982-page hardcover omnibus collection of both books with a gorgeous wraparound cover by Vincent diFate.
The hardcover edition is a little harder to track down, but it’s a fantastic bargain if you can find it.
In my review for SF Site, written way back in 1999, I said:
A glance at the contents page, and a flip through Dozois’ lengthy intro, was all that was necessary to conjure up images of purposeful men in cast iron spaceships, shouting orders to each other across a steamy engine room as mighty stellar drives propelled them into the dark void… Well there aren’t any steamy engine rooms in The Good Old Stuff. But in the ships contained herein, the cold echo of footsteps could well come from iron walls, and the void of space is often very dark indeed. The wonderful and vigourous tales in this book feature everything that made early SF as rich as it was: decadent alien civilizations, ancient and mysterious artifacts, alien invasions, timeless mysteries hidden on the surface of uncharted worlds — and the resourceful men and women (yes, women — more than a few of the protagonists are female) of Earth, facing each challenge with style. In short, this is one of the best collections I’ve read in some time, and my choice for one of the best books of 1998…
Old Stuff” refers here to the spirit of early SF — the grand Space Opera, the planetary romance, what Dozois calls “the lush sword-and-planet” tale. Collected here are a fine assortment of short stories and novellas which celebrated that tradition, and in some cases took it in significant new directions.
There are tales of far exploration into the vastness of the galaxy in the face of hostile opposition (A.E. van Vogt’s “The Rull”), unknowable ancient alien civilizations (“The Last Days of Shandaker,” by Leigh Brackett), mysterious and deadly inter-dimensional invaders (James H. Schmitz’s superb, and oddly pastoral, “The Second Night of Summer”), rites of succession for a Galactic Empire (Jack Vance’s “The New Prime”), and brave men and women faced with terrible peril (just about any of them, really, but most especially Poul Anderson’s swashbuckling novella of intrepid explorers on a post-apocalyptic Earth coming face-to-face with strangely advanced barbarians from the far continent of Nor-Merika, “The Sky People.”)
Here’s the TOC for The Good Old Stuff:
Preface by Gardner Dozois
“The Rull” by A. E. van Vogt (Astounding Science Fiction, May 1948)
“The Second Night of Summer” by James H. Schmitz (Galaxy Science Fiction, December 1950)
“The Galton Whistle” by L. Sprague de Camp (Future, July 1951)
“The New Prime ” by Jack Vance (Worlds Beyond, February 1951)
“That Share of Glory” by C. M. Kornbluth (Astounding Science Fiction, January 1952)
“The Last Days of Shandakor” by Leigh Brackett (Startling Stories, April 1952)
“Exploration Team” by Murray Leinster (Astounding Science Fiction, March 1956)
“The Sky People” by Poul Anderson (The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, March 1959)
“The Man in the Mailbag” by Gordon R. Dickson (Galaxy, April 1959)
“Mother Hitton’s Littul Kittons” by Cordwainer Smith (Galaxy, June 1961)
“A Kind of Artistry” by Brian W. Aldiss (The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, October 1962)
“Gunpowder God” by H. Beam Piper (Analog Science Fact & Science Fiction, November 1964)
“Semley’s Necklace” by Ursula K. Le Guin (Amazing Stories, September 1964)
“Moon Duel” by Fritz Leiber (If, September 1965)
“The Doors of His Face, the Lamps of His Mouth” by Roger Zelazny (F&SF, March 1965)
“Mother in the Sky With Diamonds” by James Tiptree, Jr. (Galaxy, March 1971)
And here’s the TOC for The Good New Stuff:
Preface by Gardner Dozois
“Good-Bye, Robinson Crusoe” by John Varley (Isaac Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine, Spring 1977)
“The Way of Cross and Dragon” by George R. R. Martin (Omni, June 1979)
“Swarm” by Bruce Sterling (The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, April 1982)
“The Blind Minotaur”by Michael Swanwick (Amazing Stories, March 1985)
“The Blabber”by Vernor Vinge (New Destinies, Winter 1988)
“The Return of the Kangaroo Rex” by Janet Kagan (Isaac Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine, October 1989)
“Prayers on the Wind” by Walter Jon Williams (When the Music’s Over, May 1991)
“The Missionary’s Child” by Maureen F. McHugh (Isaac Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine, October 1992)
“Poles Apart” by G. David Nordley (Analog Science Fiction and Fact, Mid-December 1992)
“Guest of Honor” by Robert Reed (The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, June 1993)
“Flowering Mandrake” by George Turner (Alien Shores, July 1994)
“Cilia-of-Gold” by Stephen Baxter (Asimov’s Science Fiction, August 1994)
“Gone to Glory” by R. Garcia y Robertson (The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, July 1995)
“A Dry, Quiet War” by Tony Daniel (Asimov’s Science Fiction, June 1996)
“All Tomorrow’s Parties” by Paul J. McAuley (Interzone, #119 May 1997)
“Escape Route” by Peter F. Hamilton (Interzone, #121 July 1997)
“The Eye of God” by Mary Rosenblum (Asimov’s Science Fiction, March 1998)
There are plenty of anthologies out there that will give you a decent overview of Adventure SF. But The Good Stuff is in a class by itself. It’s the equivalent of a Master’s degree class. By the time you’re done with both volumes, you’ll have a profound appreciation for the rich history of the genre, and the writers and editors who made it great.
More than that, however, these two books are enormously entertaining. They include a fine cross section of some of the very best Adventure SF ever written — including Tony Daniel’s brilliant far-future western “A Dry, Quiet War,” James H. Schmitz’s tale of sinister interdimensional invaders “The Second Night of Summer,” and one of the finest tales by the Queen of Space Opera herself, Leigh Brackett’s “The Last Days of Shandakor.”
The only thing I can think of that compares are the four follow-up volumes from Dozois, all in the same trade paperback format from St. Martins Press. We covered those here:
Both volumes are readily available online, both new and used, at very reasonable prices. Digital versions are available from the publisher for $7.99 each.
See all of our recent Vintage Treasures here.